American Civilization

March 9, 2009

Filed under: IWW,Labor,Machine Age,Revolution — equiano @ 8:26 pm

First Move: A Thought Experiment

Let’s try a little counter-factual history. Imagine that because of some unexpected circumstance the Confederate States of America won the Civil War. We could posit any number of possible scenarios: a train of misfortunes for the Grand Army of the Republic after a crippling victory by Lee at Antietam, the intervention of Great Britain at the behest of the South, a sudden storm in the Atlantic destroying the Union fleet, etc. Whatever the case, the South has won. The US sues for peace and the CSA is now a nation unto itself. Gradually, diplomatic ties are established. Slavery continues for the indefinite future. Given this scenario, would it be fair to say that the abolitionist movement had failed?

2nd Move: The Dialectic of the Affect of Revolution

Maybe this won’t work for you, try listening to Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” as a way of getting inside the affect of revolution:

Now, listen to Billy Bragg’s version of Joe Hill’s classic song “There is Power in a Union”:

The impulse to revolution, I want to argue, springs from the tension between what Malcolm X once called “the gift of anger” and what another revolutionary from the same era described as “great feelings of love.”

Above: the Sabcat, designed by Ralph Chaplin, symbolizing the wildcat strike.
The Industrial Workers of the World, founded in 1905 at what Big Bill Haywood called “the Continental Congress of the working class,” was an industrial union committed to the overthrow of capitalism. Notable for its strikes in Lawrence, Paterson and McKees Rocks, among many other places, the IWW constituted a radical challenge to economic hierarchy in the United States. What follows are key concepts and events which will tell us something about the IWW and the world that produced it.
“We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working-class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism. There is no organization, or there seems to be no labor organization, that that has for its purpose the same object as that for which you are called together to-day. The aims and objects of this organization shall be to put the working-class in possession of the economic power, the means of life, in control of the machinery of production and distribution, without regard to capitalist masters.”
— William “Big Bill” Haywood, opening remarks at the IWW’s founding convention (1905)
“The IWW’s affirm as a fundamental principle that the creators of wealth are entitled to all they create. Thus they find themselves pitted against the whole profit-making system. They declare that there can be no compromise so long as the majority of the working class lives in want while the master class lives in luxury. They insist that there can be no peace until the workers organize as a class, take possession of the resources of the earth and the machinery of production and distribution and abolish the wage system. In other words, the workers in their collectivity must own and operate all the essential industrial institutions and secure to each laborer the full value of his product.
“It is for these principles, this declaration of class solidarity, that the IWWs are being persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, murdered. If the capitalist class had the sense it is reputed to have, it would know that violence is the worst weapon that can be used against men who have nothing to lose and the world to gain.”
— Helen Keller, “What is the IWW?” (1918)
“My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out an starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production….”
— Lucy Gonzales Parsons (1905)
Preamble to the IWW constitution (1905):

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.”

It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.


What is Industrial Unionism?

“THE term Industrial Unionism is used to express a modern form of labor organization whose jurisdiction is not confined to any particular trade or craft, but is co-extensive with the industrial development, and embraces the entire working class. Industrial unionism is the outgrowth of trade unionism and expresses the highest form of industrial organization the working class has yet attained. As its name implies this form of unionism contemplates the organization of industries in their entirety, uniting all employees within the same economic body….”

— Eugene V. Debs (1909)

What is syndicalism?

“Syndicalism was a movement committed to destroying capitalism through revolutionary industrial struggle. Parliamentary democracy and working for reforms through the state were rejected as dead ends. Syndicalists instead looked to the power of the working class as exercised through its economic organisations, the trade unions.

Important differences existed on this question. Most European syndicalists saw their task as the conversion of existing unions to a revolutionary position [a position the Wobblies termed ‘boring from within’], while Americans. particularly those influenced by the ideas of Daniel de Leon, believed It was necessary to create new unions [and ultimately, according to the IWW, ‘One Big Union’– also known as ‘dual unionism’]. But all saw the main task as uniting the working class as a whole across racial, craft and sectional divisions. The road to the emancipation of the working class, they said, lay through direct action, solidarity, and finally the general strike which would lead to the working class seizing the means of production.”

— Phil Taylor (1987)

What is direct action?

“It is the action labor takes when it fights in the direct, natural way and that which brings greatest results. When workers rebel on the job and slow down or cease work until their grievances are redressed–that is direct action. When workers, united as a class, conduct a general strike to defend their interests–that is direct action” (

“Direct action means industrial action directly by, for, and of the workers themselves, without the treacherous aid of labor misleaders or scheming politicians. A strike that is initiated, controlled, and settled by the workers directly affected is direct action. . .. Direct action is industrial democracy” (quoted in Zinn. from an issue of the Industrial Worker?).

Defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law was a form of direct action. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Nat Turner’s uprising. Sit down strikes. Whenever a group chooses to circumvent institutions or mechanisms in order to intervene in a situation (political, social, economic) immediately.

What is a General Strike?

“The General Strike, as its name implies, must be a revolutionary or class strike instead of a strike for amelioration of conditions. It must be designed to abolish private ownership of the means of life and to supplant it with social ownership. It must be a strike, not of a few local, industrial or national groupings of workers but of the industrial workers of the world as an entity. If we keep in mind that there are four phases of the General Strike it will help to understand clearly what we mean by using the term:

  • A General Strike in a community.
  • A General Strike in an Industry.
  • A national General Strike.
  • A revolutionary or class strike– THE General Strike.”

— Ralph Chaplin (1933)

What is Syndicalism/ Anarcho-syndicalism?

Syndicalisme (French)= “trade unionism”

“A movement among industrial workers having as its object the transfer of the means of production and distribution from their present owners to unions of workers for the benefit of the workers, the method generally favoured for the accomplishment of this being the general strike” (OED).

“The fundamental difference between Syndicalism and old trade methods is this: while the old trade unions, without exception, move within the wage system and capitalism, recognizing the latter as inevitable, Syndicalism repudiates and condemns present industrial arrangements as unjust and criminal, and holds out no hope to the worker for lasting results from this system.”

— Emma Goldman (1913)

What is “strike on the job”?

“The ‘strike on the job’ would usually come when the formal strike seemed lost. Then the Wobblies returned to work, abruptly ending their formal strike. Announcing that they were ‘taking the strike to the job,’ they continued to harry the employers and to restrict production. They would follow foremen’s order to ludicrous, work-stoppage extremes or stand idle when minor decisions were required. Fired for these dilatory tactics, the Wobblies moved to other jobs and repeated their tactics.”

— Philip S. Foner (1980)

What is sabotage?

“Sabotage means primarily: the withdrawal of efficiency. Sabotage means either to slacken up and interfere with the quantity, or to botch in your skill and interfere with the quality, of capitalist production or to give poor service. Sabotage is not physical violence, sabotage is an internal, industrial process. It is something that is fought out within the four walls of the shop. And these three forms of sabotage — to affect the quality, the quantity and the service are aimed at affecting the profit of the employer. Sabotage is a means of striking at the employer’s profit for the purpose of forcing him into granting certain conditions, even as workingmen strike for the same purpose of coercing him. It is simply another form of coercion.”

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn “Sabotage” (1916)

This pamphlet, based on a speech by Flynn, was later withdrawn from the IWW”s official literature at her request. In her autobiography, Rebel Girl, Flynn writes,

“Many of the practices I referred to in this pamphlet were not ‘sabotage’ at all, but simply old-fashioned working class practices from time immemorial– such as the Scots system of “ca’ canny’ or slowdown on the job. Another was the ‘Open Mouth’ practice of workers in restaurants, stores, etc., telling the customer the exact truth about the quality of foods or goods…. [I]n Paterson in 1912 we discovered that the silk was unwound from the cocoons, worked into skeins and then dyed after a preliminary process of weighting. This business was picturesquely called ‘dynamiting’– loading with adulterants of tin, zinc and lead. One pound of pure silk would come out from three to 15 pounds heavier in weight…. Our expose explained to the public why the modern silk fabrics cracked so easily. Part of our ‘sabotage’ advice to the workers was to throw the adulterants down the drain and dye the beautiful silk pure and durable, pound for pound…. This loose talk about sabotage opened the door for the most vicious charges against the IWW, such as setting forest fires in California, which had to be proven untrue in the Criminal Syndicalist trials by producing the fire records of the State of California. It was a form of infantile Leftism in a big way, consisting largely of ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ We came to realize that class action and not uncontrolled individual actions is required on behalf of the workers” (163-165).

What is passive resistance?

“[W]e are not going to tell our membership to allow themselves to be shot down and beat up like cattle. Regardless of the fact that they are members of the working class, they still have a duty that they owe to themselves and their class of defending themselves whenever they are attacked and their life is threatened. Violence is not always the choosing of the working class; as a general rule, it is forced on them as a simple act of self-defense. They have to strike back when they are struck at, and that is the spirit and that is the idea the organization is trying to educate the workers into.

“We do not– we do not want to be understood as saying that we expect to achieve our aims through violence and through the destruction of human life, because, in my judgment, that is impossible. The achievement of success… the realization of what it is striving for– depends on one thing only, and that is gaining the control of a sufficient amount of the labor power that is necessary in the operation of industry. Now, when we have that control, then through organization the necessity for violence will be reduced; in fact, it will almost disappear. It will disappear. The necessity for using any tactics that will lead to violence will disappear, and the protection and the safeguarding of human life will increase just in proportion as we have that control.”

— Vincent St. John, testimony before the US Commission on Industrial Relations (1916)

Timeline (borrowed and abbreviated from

Originally Titled, 95 Years of Revolutionary Industrial Unionism, by Michael Hargis—featured in Anarcho Syndicalist Review, #27 and #28. This time line copied from the web site of the Industrial Workers of the World

* IWW Founding Convention—June 27: The “Continental Congress of the Working Class” establishes the industrial Workers of the World with cooperation of elements from Socialist Labor Party/Socialist Trades & Labor Alliance, Socialist Party of America, Western Federation of Miners and survivors of International Working People’s Association.


* Haywood, Pettibone and Moyers, WFM leaders, framed for attempting to kill the governor of Colorado.
* Second Convention of IWW abolishes office of president and ousts “pure and simple” trade unionists.
* Lockout of IWW members in Goldfield, Nevada. Vincent St. John arrested for conspiracy to commit murder in death of a restaurant owner.
* WFM-IWW miners strike against wage cut in Goldfield. Federal troops sent in to crush strike; first stay-in strike (3,000 workers) of the 20th Century carried out by IWW at General Electric plant in Schenectady, NY.


* Founding of National Industrial Union of Textile Workers, 1st chartered IWW industrial union.
* Strike at Marston Textile Mill, Skowhegan, Maine;
* 3,000 IWW sawmill workers strike in Portland, OR;
* IWW smeltermen strike in Tacoma, WA win 8-hour day and 15% pay hike;
* Lumber workers strike in Humboldt County, CA, Missoula, MT and Vancouver, B.C.;
* Bakers in San Francisco strike;
* Lumber workers strike in Montana;
* Textile strike at Mapleville, RI;
* American Tube strike in Bridgeport, CT


* Textile workers strike, Lawrence, MA
* Fourth convention results in split between political actionists, led by Daniel DeLeon of the SLP, and direct actionists, led by Vincent St. John and J.H. Walsh. DeLeonists set up rival IWW in Detroit and accuse Chicago IWW with “anarchism.”


* Industrial Worker begin publishing in Spokane, WA as the voice of the Western branches of IWW.
* Pressed Steel Car Company workers strike in McKees Rock, PA.
* Sheet and tinplate workers strike in New Castle, PA.
* Solidarity begins publishing in New Castle, PA as organ of Eastern branches of IWW.
* Missoula, MT free speech fight.


* Strike against Standard Steel Car Company in Hammond, IN.
* Strike against Hansel & Elcock Construction in Chicago.
* First reference to “direct action” in IWW publications.
* Strike against Lamm & Company, Chicago clothiers.
* First use of terms “sabotage” and “passive resistance” in IWW publications.
* Meat packers strike in Pittsburgh, PA; Show workers strike in Brooklyn, NY.
* Organizing against “job sharks” in Washington State leads to victorious Free Speech Fight in Spokane, WA.
* Brotherhood of Timber Workers, racially integrated union, formed in Louisiana and East Texas.


* IWW Free Speech Fight in Fresno, CA.
* Brooklyn shoe workers strike several shops.
* Strike at American Locomotive.


* Wobblies join Magonistas in insurrection in Baja California, briefly proclaim the Baja Commune. U.S. troops invade Mexico to crush the rebellion; IWW-led General Strike in Tampico, Mexico for release of political prisoners crushed by army.
* William Z. Foster leaves IWW and forms Syndicalist League of North America to “bore from within” AFL.
* Socialist Party forbids those who oppose political action or advocate sabotage to belong to the party.
* Bill Haywood recalled from NEC. Many IWWs leave SPA.
* Bread and Roses Strike—25,000 textile workers strike in Lawrence, MA, call for IWW leadership. IWW leaders Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovanitti arrested for the murder of striker Anna Lo Pizza.
* Formation of Forest and Lumber Workers Industrial Union.
* IWW textile strike in Lowell, MA (18,000 workers).
* Strike at National Malleable Casting in Indianapolis, IN.
* Lumber workers strike throughout Gray’s Harbor region (Hoquiam, Raymond, Cosmopolis and Aberdeen, WA).
* Strike of railroad construction crews against Great Northern and Grand Trunk lines. IWW establishes “1,000 mile picket line.”
* First use of the term “Wobbly” in IWW publications.
* Strike of organ and piano builders in New York.
* Two-week strike against American Radiator in Buffalo (5,000 workers).
* Unsuccessful national lumber workers strike.
* Strikes at Warner Refining in Edgewater, NY and Corn Products Refining in Shadyside, NJ;
* Strike at Avery Implements in Peoria, IL.
* Brotherhood of Timber Workers affiliates with Forest and Lumber Workers Industrial Union, IWW; strikes Galloway Lumber Company in Grabow, LA. Three strikers killed and 58 arrested for defending themselves, acquitted in December.
* Textile strike in New Bedford, MA (11,000) Dockworkers strike in San Pedro, CA.
* Tobacco worker strikes in Pittsburgh and McKees Rock, PA.
* Ettor and Gionvanitti trial ends in acquittal.


Strike instigated by IWW dual-carders in AFL Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union against the Astor and other premier hotels in New York City.
* Paterson Silk Strike—Silkworkers strike in Paterson, NJ (25,000 workers)
*Paterson Pageant

* BTW in 7-month strike against American Lumber Company (1,200 workers)
* Textile strike in Ipswitch, NY
* Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union formed by Philadelphia, PA, longshoremen as a result of spontaneous strike.
* Strike against Studebaker, car manufacturer (6,000 workers); short strikes against Metal Wheel in Detroit and Foyer Brothers in Toledo.
* Strike against Dry Slitz Stogie leads to lockout of 1200 workers in Pittsburgh, PA, 800 IWW cigar workers strike in retaliation.
* Dock workers strike for safety equipment in Duluth, MN set up branch of MTW;
* Wheatland Riots—Hop pickers strike against Durst Ranch in Wheatland, CA. Gun battle results in indictment and conviction of IWW organizers Ford and Suhr who are sentenced to 15 years in prison.
* Textile strike in Baltimore, MD undermined by AFL scabs. BTW strike in Sweet Home, LA.


* World War I begins in Europe.
* 3,000 unemployed demonstrate in Detroit; IWW gains control of Unemployed Convention in San Francisco. New York unemployed, led by Wobbly Frank Tannenbaum, occupy churches; Union Square unemployed riot.
* Sioux City, Iowa, free speech fight.
* IWW Unemployed League organized in Detroit.


* Detroit IWW, aka Workers International Industrial Union, dissolves.
* AWO Established—Agricultural Workers Organization 400 (later renamed Agricultural Workers Industrial Union 110) founded in Kansas City, MO, introduces the job delegate system into IWW.
* Joe Hill Executed—Joe Hill, IWW organizer, executed by copper bosses in Utah.

* BTW dissolves. Victim of 5,000 blacklisted members.
* National Industrial Union of Textile Workers dissolves, its remaining locals affiliate directly to IWW.
* Philadelphia MTW wins recognition at non-union docks without a contract.
* Shoe workers strike 28 shops in Philadelphia; Strike of 700 against Solvay Processing Plant in Detroit, MI;
* Strike of 3,000 against Kelsey Wheel in Detroit, MI;
* Housemaids organized in Denver, CO;
* Iron miners strike on the Mesabi Range in Minnesota (6,000 workers);
* Miners strike, Cayuna Range, MI;
* Dock workers strike in Two Harbors and Duluth, MN;
* Shingle-weavers strike in Everett, WA; Miners strike in Scranton, PA
* Vernillion Iron Range out on strike.
* Everett Massacre—IWWs murdered by hired guns in Everett, WA. Seventy-five held for murder of deputy, acquitted.
* IWW Convention adopts anti-war resolution.


* Oil Workers Industrial Union and Metal Mine Workers Industrial Union chartered.
* Longshoremen strike in Philadelphia, PA.
* Lumber Workers Industrial Union established.
* River drivers strike in Fontana River, MT, and win 8-hour day.
* Idaho and Minnesota pass Criminal Syndicalism Laws (pdf) to counter IWW organizing.
* General Construction Workers Industrial Union formed; construction strike in Exeter, CA. Construction strike in Seattle wins IWW hiring hall; Construction strike in Rockford, IL;
* Speculator mine disaster in Butte, MT leads to strike;
* Copper strikes in Arizona in support of Butte;
* Lumber workers strike in Spokane district, WA;
* Miners strike in Virginia, MN.
* Bisbee Deportation—1200 copper strikers deported from Bisbee, AZ.
* Miners strike Gogebic Range.
* Frank Little Murdered—Frank Little, IWW organizer, lynched by copper bosses.
* Australian IWWs tried for treason for opposing conscription, IWW outlawed.
* Federal agents raid IWW halls and offices nation wide, arrest 165 IWW members.
* LWIU 120 Wins 8-Hour Day—Lumber strike in on the job wins 8-hour day in Northwest timber country.
* General Defense Committee formed to defend class war prisoners.


* IWW lumber workers burn bedrolls and mattresses.
* Chicago trial of 100 IWWs for espionage ends in sentences of 20 years for 15 men; 10 years for 35; 5 years for 33;1 year for 12 and nominal sentences for the rest.


* General strikes in Seattle, WA, Butte, MT, Toledo, OH and, Winnipeg, MB.
* MTW strike in Philadelphia, PA.
* Mine workers strike in Butte, MT and Oatman, AZ or 6-hour day.
* Lumber strikes on river drives win clean bedding.
* Lumber workers hall in Superior, WI, attacked by mob but show of force by Wobs turns them back.
* Short-log district lumber strikes include demands for release of class war prisoners and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Russia.
* Centralia Massacre—Mob of Legionnaires attack IWW hall in Centralia, WA. IWWs defend hall with force. IWW Wesley Everest, one of the hall defenders, tortured and lynched by mob. Eight others sent to prison on conspiracy charges.
* MTW branch established in Buenos Aires, Argentina
* IWW administrations established in Mexico and Chile.
* Wichita and Sacramento IWW trials. 2000 class war prisoners.


* Palmer Raids—Palmer Raids round up and deport thousands of alien radicals.
* IWW and British Shop Stewards Movement agree on exchange of membership cards.
* MTW strike in Philadelphia, PA.
* Chilean IWW conducts strike to protest export of food during famine; Chilean government launched reign of terror to destroy IWW.
* Communist-controlled IWW General Executive Board suspends Philadelphia MTW on false charges of loading arms for Russian counter-revolutionary Wrangle.

* Congress of Red Trade Union International attended by delegates from IWW and Canadian OBU. Their reports of political domination by Communists convinces IWW not to affiliate.
* 46 IWWs out on bail on the espionage convictions start prison terms. Bill Haywood and 8 others jump bail and flee to Russia.
* IWW hall raided in Tampico, Mexico. General strike forces government to allow it to reopen.
* Philadelphia MTW branch reinstated.


* Joint MTW and ILA strike in Portland, OR, against Fink Hall, sold out by ILA.
* Construction strike on Great Northern Railroad.
* Strike on power projects in Oregon and Washington.
* Metal Mine strikes in Bingham Canyon and Butte.
* Oil Workers Industrial Union drive in Southwest.
* MTW strike in Portland, OR.
* ILA-hired thugs attempt to drive MTW out of Hoboken, NJ.
* Railroad shopmen’s strike supported by IWW Railroad Workers Industrial Union.
* MTW in Philadelphia strike against blacklist and for 44-hour week.
* Construction strike in Hetch-Hetchy project near San Francisco and on Edison Power irrigation project near Fresno, CA.


* Two strikes against Warren Construction Co. out of Fresno.
* Police try to shut down IWW hall in Mobile, AL but free speech fight prevails.
* Strikes to free class war prisoners conducted by IWW in San Pedro, Aberdeen, New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Mobile and Galveston, and by Lumber and Construction Unions in Washington and Oregon.
* San Pedro free speech fight


* Emergency Program / Four-Trey Split—IWW splits: Emergency Program-IWW sets up headquarters in Portland, Oregon.
* Thugs raid IWW hall in San Pedro, destroy hall and scald children.


* Philadelphia MTW goes over to ILA due to disillusionment over 1924 split and perceived interference from General Administration.
* IWW coal miners strike in Alberta against UMWA check-off.


* Sacco & Vanzetti Murdered—IWW strikes for Sacco and Vanzetti in Colorado. Sacco and Vanzetti executed in Boston.
* Columbine Massacre—Colorado coal strike leads to Columbine Massacre.


* Police raid IWW hall in Walsenburg, CO, two Wobblies killed.


* IWW drive among coal miners in Illinois gains sizable two-card membership in UMWA.
* Strike against U.S. Gypsum Company near Oakfield, NY.
* MTW branch established in Stettin, Germany.
* The Great Depression Begins—Stock market crashes, beginning of Great Depression.

Repression and Disinformation:

“The popular attitude toward the Wobblies among employers, public officials and the public generally corresponds to the popular notion that they are arch-fiends and the dregs of society. It is the hang-them-all-at-sunrise attitude. A high official of the Federal Department of Justice in one of our western states gave the writer an instance. On a recent visit to a small town in a distant part of the state he happened upon the sheriff. That officer, in reply to a question, explained that they were ‘having no trouble at all with Wobs’: ‘When a Wobbly comes to town,’ he explained, ‘I just knock him over the head with a night stick and throw him in the river. When he comes up he beats it out of town.’ [I]n such a situation almost any poor man, if he be without a job or visible means of support, is assumed to be, ipso facto, an I.W.W. Being a Wobbly, the proper thing for him is pickhandle treatment or– if he is known to be a strike agitator– a ‘little neck-tie party.”
— Paul Brissendon, The I.W.W.: A Study of American Syndicalism (2nd ed. 1920)


“…material was being gathered for a new outbreak in the United States. The casual laborers had greatly increased in numbers, especially in the West. These migratory working men—the “hobo miners,” the “hobo lumber jacks,” the “blanket stiffs,” of colloquial speech—wander about the country in search of work. They rarely have ties of family and seldom ties of locality. About one-half of these wanderers are American born. They are to be described with precision as “floaters.” Their range of operations includes the wheat regions west of the Mississippi, the iron mines of Michigan and Minnesota, the mines and forests of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, and the fields of California and Arizona. They prefer to winter in the cities, but, as their only refuge is the bunk lodging house, they increase the social problem in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other centers of the unemployed. Many of these migrants never were skilled workers; but a considerable portion of them have been forced down into the ranks of the unskilled by the inevitable tragedies of prolonged unemployment. Such men lend a willing ear to the labor agitator. The exact number in this wandering class is not known. The railroad companies have estimated that at a given time there have been 500,000 hobos trying to beat their way from place to place. Unquestionably a large percentage of the 23,964 trespassers killed and of the 25,236 injured on railway rights of way from 1901 to 1904 belonged to this class.

“It is not alone these drifters, however, who because of their irresponsibility and their hostility toward society became easy victims to the industrial organizer. The great mass of unskilled workers in the factory towns proved quite as tempting to the propagandist. Among laborers of this class, wages are the lowest and living conditions the most uninviting. Moreover, this group forms the industrial reservoir which receives the settlings of the most recent European and Asiatic immigration. These people have a standard of living and conceptions of political and individual freedom which are at variance with American traditions. Though their employment is steadier than that of the migratory laborer, and though they often have ties of family and other stabilizing responsibilities, their lives are subject to periods of unemployment, and these fluctuations serve to feed their innate restlessness. They are, in quite the literal sense of the word, American proletarians. They are more volatile than any European proletarian, for they have learned the lesson of migration, and they retain the socialistic and anarchistic philosophy of their European fellow-workers.”

— Samuel Orth, The Armies of Labor, from the chapter entitled “The New Terrorism: The IWW” (1921). Jim Crutchfield, from whose website this quote is taken, describes this text as “A disgusting piece of A. F. of L. propaganda. Full of lies and vitriol against the I. W. W., it endorses lynch-law and covers up the crimes of the boss class and its “labor lieutenants” in the A. F. of L. against the authentic organization of the working class. The Everett Massacre is presented as a valiant defense of the town against an invading army, rather than the ambush of peaceful workers by a drunken gang of deputies’.”



“Most of the individuals involved in this movement are aliens or foreign-born citizens. There are some, however, of unquestioned American extraction. Some of the leaders are idealists with distorted minds, many even insane; many are professional agitators who are plainly self-seekers and a large number of potential, or actual criminals whose baseness of character leads them to espouse the unrestrained and gross theories and tactics of these organizations. If there be any doubt of the general character of the active leaders and agitators amongst these avowed revolutionists, a visit to the Department of Justice and an examination of their photographs there collected would dispel it. Out of the sly and crafty eyes of many of them leap cupidity, cruelty, insanity, and crime; from their lopsided faces, sloping brows, and misshapen features may be recognized the unmistakable criminal type.”

— Mitchell Palmer, hearing before the House of Representatives (1920)



Notes on Ahmed White’s The Crime of Economic Radicalism: Criminal Syndicalism Laws and the Industrial Workers of the World, 1917-1927.

Official repression of the IWW included not only “authorities manipulation of laws of general relevance…. for example, with the large scale and totally unfounded prosecution of IWW members for conspiracy to interfere with the war effort” but by the use of “vagrancy laws, ‘tramp acts,’ and other relatively minor laws” (651).

Tens of thousands of wobblies were arrested and charged using these laws.

“Such charges were use time and again to run members out of town, intiate beatings and other indiginties, and preempt organizing and strike efforts.”

“beyond legal artifice and selective prosecution”:

“official lawlessness as well as official complicity in private acts of antiradical vigilantism. Countless members were beaten and on occasion even killed by American Legionnaires, Ku Klux Klansmen, private detectives, and other self-nominated protectors of ‘true’ Americanism.”

“In the late 1910s and early 1920s, almost half of American states and territories enacted criminal syndicalism laws that essentially criminalized any sort of challenge to industrial capitalism. These laws did this under the guise of criminalizing advocacy of ‘political or industrial change’ by means of ‘sabotage,’ ‘terrorism,’ and other criminal conduct” (652).

“key terms… like sabotage, were only vaguely… defined”

“it was the purpose and function of criminal syndicalism laws to effectively criminalize mere membership in the IWW and thereby challenge its continued existence as a functioning institution.”

“these were serious criminal laws concerned far more with destroying the IWW and punishing its members for their radicalism than regulating speech and association rights in any abstractly juridical sense” (654).

Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape:



SCENE—Nearly a month later. An I. W. W. local near the waterfront, showing the interior of a front room on the ground floor, and the street outside. Moonlight on the narrow street, buildings massed in black shadow. The interior of the room, which is general assembly room, office, and reading room, resembles some dingy settlement boys club. A desk and high stool are in one corner. A table with papers, stacks of pamphlets, chairs about it, is at center. The whole is decidedly cheap, banal, commonplace and unmysterious as a room could well be. The secretary is perched on the stool making entries in a large ledger. An eye shade casts his face into shadows. Eight or ten men, longshoremen, iron workers, and the like, are grouped about the table. Two are playing checkers. One is writing a letter. Most of them are smoking pipes. A big signboard is on the wall at the rear, “Industrial Workers of the World—Local No. 57.”
YANK—(Comes down the street outside. He is dressed as in Scene Five. He moves cautiously, mysteriously. He comes to a point opposite the door; tiptoes softly up to it, listens, is impressed by the silence within, knocks carefully, as if he were guessing at the password to some secret rite. Listens. No answer. Knocks again a bit louder. No answer. Knocks impatiently, much louder.)
SECRETARY—(Turning around on his stool.) What the devil is that—someone knocking? (Shouts:) Come in, why don’t you? (All the men in the room look up. YANK opens the door slowly, gingerly, as if afraid of an ambush. He looks around for secret doors, mystery, is taken aback by the commonplaceness of the room and the men in it, thinks he may have gotten in the wrong place, then sees the signboard on the wall and is reassured.)
YANK—(Blurts out.) Hello.
MEN—(Reservedly.) Hello.
YANK—(More easily.) I tought I’d bumped into de wrong dump.
SECRETARY—(Scrutinizing him carefully.) Maybe you have. Are you a member?
YANK—Naw, not yet. Dat’s what I come for—to join.
SECRETARY—That’s easy. What’s your job—longshore?
YANK—Naw. Fireman—stoker on de liners.
SECRETARY—(With satisfaction.) Welcome to our city. Glad to know you people are waking up at last. We haven’t got many members in your line.
YANK—Naw. Dey’re all dead to de woild.
SECRETARY—Well, you can help to wake ’em. What’s your name? I’ll make out your card.
YANK—(Confused.) Name? Lemme tink.
SECRETARY—(Sharply.) Don’t you know your own name?
YANK—Sure; but I been just Yank for so long—Bob, dat’s it—Bob Smith.
SECRETARY—(Writing.) Robert Smith. (Fills out the rest of card.) Here you are. Cost you half a dollar.
YANK—Is dat all—four bits? Dat’s easy. (Gives the Secretary the money.)
SECRETARY—(Throwing it in drawer.) Thanks. Well, make yourself at home. No introductions needed. There’s literature on the table. Take some of those pamphlets with you to distribute aboard ship. They may bring results. Sow the seed, only go about it right. Don’t get caught and fired. We got plenty out of work. What we need is men who can hold their jobs—and work for us at the same time.
YANK—Sure. (But he still stands, embarrassed and uneasy.)
SECRETARY—(Looking at him—curiously.) What did you knock for? Think we had a coon in uniform to open doors?
YANK—Naw. I tought it was locked—and dat yuh’d wanter give me the once-over trou a peep-hole or somep’n to see if I was right.
SECRETARY—(Alert and suspicious but with an easy laugh.) Think we were running a crap game? That door is never locked. What put that in your nut?
YANK—(With a knowing grin, convinced that this is all camouflage, a part of the secrecy.) Dis burg is full of bulls, ain’t it?
SECRETARY—(Sharply.) What have the cops got to do with us? We’re breaking no laws.
YANK—(With a knowing wink.) Sure. Youse wouldn’t for woilds. Sure. I’m wise to dat.
SECRETARY—You seem to be wise to a lot of stuff none of us knows about.
YANK—(With another wink.) Aw, dat’s aw right, see. (Then made a bit resentful by the suspicious glances from all sides.) Aw, can it! Youse needn’t put me trou de toid degree. Can’t youse see I belong? Sure! I’m reg’lar. I’ll stick, get me? I’ll shoot de woiks for youse. Dat’s why I wanted to join in.
SECRETARY—(Breezily, feeling him out.) That’s the right spirit. Only are you sure you understand what you’ve joined? It’s all plain and above board; still, some guys get a wrong slant on us. (Sharply.) What’s your notion of the purpose of the I. W. W.?
YANK—Aw, I know all about it.
SECRETARY—(Sarcastically.) Well, give us some of your valuable information.
YANK—(Cunningly.) I know enough not to speak outa my toin. (Then resentfully again.) Aw, say! I’m reg’lar. I’m wise to de game. I know yuh got to watch your step wit a stranger. For all youse know, I might be a plain-clothes dick, or somep’n, dat’s what yuh’re tinkin’, huh? Aw, forget it! I belong, see? Ask any guy down to de docks if I don’t.
SECRETARY—Who said you didn’t?
YANK—After I’m ’nitiated, I’ll show yuh.
SECRETARY—(Astounded.) Initiated? There’s no initiation.
YANK—(Disappointed.) Ain’t there no password—no grip nor nothin’?
SECRETARY—What’d you think this is—the Elks—or the Black Hand?
YANK—De Elks, hell! De Black Hand, dey’re a lot of yellow backstickin’ Ginees. Naw. Dis is a man’s gang, ain’t it?
SECRETARY—You said it! That’s why we stand on our two feet in the open. We got no secrets.
YANK—(Surprised but admiringly.) Yuh mean to say yuh always run wide open—like dis?
YANK—Den yuh sure got your noive wit youse!
SECRETARY—(Sharply.) Just what was it made you want to join us? Come out with that straight.
YANK—Yuh call me? Well, I got noive, too! Here’s my hand. Yuh wanter blow tings up, don’t yuh? Well, dat’s me! I belong!
SECRETARY—(With pretended carelessness.) You mean change the unequal conditions of society by legitimate direct action—or with dynamite?
YANK—Dynamite! Blow it offen de oith—steel—all de cages—all de factories, steamers, buildings, jails—de Steel Trust and all dat makes it go.
SECRETARY—So—that’s your idea, eh? And did you have any special job in that line you wanted to propose to us. (He makes a sign to the men, who get up cautiously one by one and group behind YANK.)
YANK—(Boldly.) Sure, I’ll come out wit it. I’ll show youse I’m one of de gang. Dere’s dat millionaire guy, Douglas—
SECRETARY—President of the Steel Trust, you mean? Do you want to assassinate him?
YANK—Naw, dat don’t get yuh nothin’. I mean blow up de factory, de woiks, where he makes de steel. Dat’s what I’m after—to blow up de steel, knock all de steel in de woild up to de moon. Dat’ll fix tings! (Eagerly, with a touch of bravado.) I’ll do it by me lonesome! I’ll show yuh! Tell me where his woiks is, how to git there, all de dope. Gimme de stuff, de old butter—and watch me do de rest! Watch de smoke and see it move! I don’t give a damn if dey nab me—long as it’s done! I’ll soive life for it—and give ’em de laugh! (Half to himself.) And I’ll write her a letter and tell her de hairy ape done it. Dat’ll square tings.
SECRETARY—(Stepping away from YANK.) Very interesting. (He gives a signal. The men, huskies all, throw themselves on YANK and before he knows it they have his legs and arms pinioned. But he is too flabber-gasted to make a struggle, anyway. They feel him over for weapons.)
MAN—No gat, no knife. Shall we give him what’s what and put the boots to him?
SECRETARY—No. He isn’t worth the trouble we’d get into. He’s too stupid. (He comes closer and laughs mockingly in YANK’S face.) Ho-ho! By God, this is the biggest joke they’ve put up on us yet. Hey, you Joke! Who sent you—Burns or Pinkerton? No, by God, you’re such a bonehead I’ll bet you’re in the Secret Service! Well, you dirty spy, you rotten agent provocator, you can go back and tell whatever skunk is paying you blood-money for betraying your brothers that he’s wasting his coin. You couldn’t catch a cold. And tell him that all he’ll ever get on us, or ever has got, is just his own sneaking plots that he’s framed up to put us in jail. We are what our manifesto says we are, neither more or less—and we’ll give him a copy of that any time he calls. And as for you—(He glares scornfully at YANK,who is sunk in an oblivious stupor.) Oh, hell, what’s the use of talking? You’re a brainless ape.
YANK—(Aroused by the word to fierce but futile struggles.) What’s dat, yuh Sheeny bum, yuh!
SECRETARY—Throw him out, boys. (In spite of his struggles, this is done with gusto and éclat. Propelled by several parting kicks, YANK lands sprawling in the middle of the narrow cobbled street. With a growl he starts to get up and storm the closed door, but stops bewildered by the confusion in his brain, pathetically impotent. He sits there, brooding, in as near to the attitude of Rodin’s “Thinker” as he can get in his position.)
YANK—(Bitterly.) So dem boids don’t tink I belong, neider. Aw, to hell wit ’em! Dey’re in de wrong pew—de same old bull—soapboxes and Salvation Army—no guts! Cut out an hour offen de job a day and make me happy! Gimme a dollar more a day and make me happy! Tree square a day, and cauliflowers in de front yard—ekal rights—a woman and kids—a lousey vote—and I’m all fixed for Jesus, huh? Aw, hell! What does dat get yuh? Dis ting’s in your inside, but it ain’t your belly. Feedin’ your face—sinkers and coffee—dat don’t touch it. It’s way down—at de bottom. Yuh can’t grab it, and yuh can’t stop it. It moves, and everything moves. It stops and de whole woild stops. Dat’s me now—I don’t tick, see?—I’m a busted Ingersoll, dat’s what. Steel was me, and I owned de woild. Now I ain’t steel, and de woild owns me. Aw, hell! I can’t see—it’s all dark, get me? It’s all wrong! (He turns a bitter mocking face up like an ape gibbering at the moon.) Say, youse up dere, Man in de Moon, yuh look so wise, gimme de answer, huh? Slip me de inside dope, de information right from de stable—where do I get off at, huh?
A POLICEMAN—(Who has come up the street in time to hear this last—with grim humor.) You’ll get off at the station, you boob, if you don’t get up out of that and keep movin’.
YANK—(Looking up at him—with a hard, bitter laugh.) Sure! Lock me up! Put me in a cage! Dat’s de on’y answer yuh know. G’wan, lock me up!
POLICEMAN—What you been doin’?
YANK—Enuf to gimme life for! I was born, see? Sure, dat’s de charge. Write it in de blotter. I was born, get me!
POLICEMAN—(Jocosely.) God pity your old woman! (Then matter-of-fact.) But I’ve no time for kidding. You’re soused. I’d run you in but it’s too long a walk to the station. Come on now, get up, or I’ll fan your ears with this club. Beat it now! (He hauls YANK to his feet.)
YANK—(In a vague mocking tone.) Say, where do I go from here?
POLICEMAN—(Giving him a push—with a grin, indifferently.) Go to hell.


A Working Class Counterculture:



Above: IWW band, Joe Hill, performance of Hill’s The Preacher and the Slave (lyrics below).

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
‘Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they’ll tell you when you’re on the bum:Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.
If you fight hard for children and wife —
Try to get something good in this life —
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight;
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:

You will eat, bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.



Above: Cover art for “Rebel Girl,” excerpt of a talk by EGF and the song itself, Flynn agitating in Lawrence.

The World As It Is Today


“The capitalist system, rotten as it is, has resources which cannot be overlooked. The armed forces of the state are not nearly so formidable as the venal press and other avenues of publicity and class mis-education. The capitalist press and class-controlled radio are perhaps the very strongest bulwarks for the established order. By means of these, labor hatred and mob frenzy can be lashed to fever heat at any time and against any individual or group which dares to challenge the capitalist system. ”

Ralph Chaplin, “The General Strike” (1933)

“The wealthiest 5% of the world’s people now earn 114 times as much as the poorest 5%. The 500 richest people on earth now own $1.54 trillion – more than the entire gross domestic product of Africa, or the combined annual incomes of the poorest half of humanity.”

— UK Guardian, 9/3/03


February 28, 2009

Bloody Blundering Business

Filed under: colonization,Empire & Colony,Machine Age,quotes — equiano @ 3:51 pm

On Monday we’ll watch a documentary in lecture titled This Bloody Blundering Business which uses satirical methods to explore the significance of the Filipino-American War. By way of a gesture at the socio-historical context of this conflict consider the following quotes:

“’Our manufactures have outgrown or are outgrowing the home market. Expansion of our foreign trade is the only promise of relief’”–  Theodore Search, president of the Nat’l Assoc. of Manufacturers (1897).

“What was new about the period was scale– the sheer volume of materials needed to feed the engines of industrial production and the volume of production itself; the sheer volume of population movements in response to this stage of maturing capitalism; the scale of government bureaucracies…. and the scale of a burgeoning culture industry, which not only narrated these events for mass consumption but served up images of the world and its people that at once naturlaized ‘large policies’ and gave voice to the anxieties engendered by these grand designs” (Frye 6).

For the “average voter,” free trade “has become definitely associated in his imagination with the annexation of tropical islands, the populations of which have suddenly interested him and the resources of which are new objects of his thought; with the brilliant naval victories in the waters of Manila Bay and Santiago; with the relation of the Philippine Islands with the rest of the Far East, to the destinies of China and to the limitless possibilities of commercial enterprise that attend the awakening of the Orient” (Giddings 598).

“The task of governing from a distance the inferior races of mankind will be one of great difficulty– one that will tax every resource of intellect and character; but it is one that must be faced and overcome, if the civilized world is not to abandon all hope of continuing its economic conquest of the natural resources of the globe” (Giddings 600).

“Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” — V.I. Lenin (1916)

“Those who wanted to take the Philippines pointed to the potential markets of the East, the White Man’s Burden, the struggle for existence, ‘racial’ destiny, American traditions of expansion, the dangers of a general war if the Philippines were left open to a European scramble, the almost parental duty of assuming responsibility for the allegedly child-like Filipinos, the incapacity of the Filipinos for self-government” (Hoftstadter 172).

February 18, 2009

Racing Science

Filed under: Jim Crow,Machine Age,Race Science,White Supremacy — equiano @ 9:45 pm

Key Terms:

“allochronism”– literally, “other-timing”. When one group places another outside of its own temporal or historical sequence as in the phrase “they’re primitives.”

anthropometry– the measuring of human features. ex. craniometry, the measurement of the skull.


“biogenetic law”– Haeckel’s term for the principle of recapitulation

blood– one of the most powerful metaphors pertaining to race and heredity. “I have Irish blood.” “My friend has Cherokee blood” etc.

“gemmule”– “Darwin’s term for a hypothetical particle of heredity carried by all cells and capable of moving to sex cells, thus permitting a direct influence of environment upon heredity”

Mendelian inheritance– certain characteristics are transferrable from parent to child. The basis of modern genetics.

monogenist: springing from a single source. “one blood”.

neo-Lamarckism– “a popular late 19th century alternative to Darwinism, postulating that adaptations arise as characters acquired by active organic responses to environment and are passed on to offspring by heredity” (Gould). ex. Giraffes go their long necks from generations of stretching to obtain leaves to eat. In human society, parents could acquire characteristics which they might then pass on to their descendants, including moral or intellectual defects.

phylogeny– “the evolutionary history of a lineage, conventionally depicted as a sequence of successive adult stages”

polygenist– “the early and mid-19th century theory that human races are separate species”

racialism– the belief that racial difference exists though no single race is superior to another. The early writings of WEB Du Bois exemplify this notion.

racism– the belief that races are ranked hierarchically in terms of abilities or attributes.

racial senescence– “the theory that lineages, like individuals, pass through prgrammed stages leading inevitably to phyletic exhuastion and death (extinction)”

recapitulation– “the repetition of ancestral adult stages in embyonic or juvenile stages of descendants”. ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.


rule of hypodescent– the “one drop rule”

white supremacy– the ideology and practice of white social privilege at the expense of other races. Jim Crow, segregation, lynching, Asian exclusion and the convict least system are all examples of white supremacy in action.


“This is a county of white men. And as Long as I am president it will be a government for white men.”

Andrew Johnson

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”

–Marlow, in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world.”

Charles Darwin, On the Descent of Man (1871)

To be a Negro in a day like this

Demands rare patience—patience that can wait

In utter darkness.

James D. Corrothers

“Then will the world enter upon a new stage of its history– the final competition of races, for which the Anglo-Saxon is being schooled.”

Josiah Strong, Our Country

“We have only to imagine what America would be to-day if she had fallen… into the hands of any other people than the Colonizing British, to see how vitally important is this question of race. America was indeed fortunate in the seed planted upon her soil…. the American of today remains true to this noble strain and is 4/5 British” (2-3).

Andrew Carnegie,  The Triumph of America (1885)

“It is highly probably that whole nations have regtrograded in the scale of life. Certain savage peoples like the Bushmen and Australians are believed by ethnologists to represent decadent stocks. Wars, famines, the encroachments of superior races, as well as inherent vices, have operated, and are still operating, to destroy entire tribes and races. The gradual extinction of the American Indians and many of the South Sea Islanders illustrates a process of degeneration that is going on in our own time.”

George Dawson (1896)

“Poverty, even, is sweeter to them than confinement. Naturally they become warlike and predatory in their habits. Assuming that ‘all is fair in war,’ they act upon the principle that ‘might makes right’, whether it be the might of brute force, or savage cunning. The comforts and restrains of social and civil life are not to be compared with trusty weapons and a swift-going steed. Despising governments, they are yet controlled by their emirs, their sheiks, and their traditions. Ishmaelites by descent, they are Ishmaelites in disposition also;  their hand against every many, they trust no an thoroughly, save their own brotherhood. Uncertain, vindictive, and selfish, they are the source of apprehension to every traveler. Living in clans or hordes, for self protection, however, rather than for love’s sake, their one pre-eminent object in life is subsistence– food, shelter, clothing” (21-22).

George Needham “Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes” (1884)


“God has… made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. Were it not for a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America…. We are trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous peace.

“What shall history say of us? Shall it say that we renounced that holy trust, left the savage to its base conditions, the wilderness to the reign of waste, deserted duty, abandoned glory?… Our fathers… unfurled no retreating flag. That flag has never paused in its onward march. Who dares halt it now– now, when history’s largest events are carrying it forward?”

–Senator Albert Beveridge, Speech from January 9, 1900.

“Thank God for the iron in the blood of our fathers, the men who upheld the wisdom of Lincoln and bore sword or rifle in the armies of Grant! Let us, the children of the men who proved themselves equal to the mighty days, let us, the children of the men who carried the great Civil War to a triumphant conclusion, praise the God of our fathers that the ignoble counsels of peace were rejected; that the suffering and loss, the blackness of sorrow and despair, were unflinchingly faced and the years of strife endured; for in the end the slave was freed, the Union restored, and the mighty American republic placed once more as a helmeted queen among nations” (5).

Theodore Roosevelt, “The Strenuous Life” (1899)

“The cyclone of civilization rolled westward; the forests of untold centuries were swept away; streams dried up; lakes fell back from their ancient bounds; and all our fathers once loved to gaze upon was destroyed, defaced, or marred, except the sun, moon and starry skies above, which the Great Spirit in his wisdom hung beyond their reach.”

– Simon Pokagon, “The Red Man’s Greeting” at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

“My thoughts, the thoughts of Washington, Trotter and others, were the expression of social forces more than of our own minds. These forces or ideologies embraced more than our reasoned acts. They included physical, biological and psychological forces; habits, conventions and enactments. Opposed to these came natural reaction: the physical recoil of the victims, the unconscious and irrational urges, as well as reasoned complaints and acts. The total result was the history of our day. That history may be epitomized in one word– Empire; the domination of white Europe over black Africa and yellow Asia, through political power built on the economic control of labor, income and ideas. The echo of this industrial imperialism in America was the expulsion of black men from American democracy, their subjection to caste control and wage slavery. This ideology was triumphant in 1910”

– WEB DuBois, Dusk of Dawn.

Beginnings: Race is a Lie

10929_2_03, Miss Richard Wachira

The paradox of Race is that it is a lie which has produced a kind of truth; it is a true lie.

The fundamental instability of the Race Concept is illustrated by the various ways in which it has been “explained” by experts over the last 400 years. At different moments Race has been linked to physical characteristics, culture, language, religion, geography and what we would now call ethnicity. Just as telling is the fact that over the course of time experts have designated from 3 to 60 different races. Race, then, as  a concept, is fatally incoherent. Nonetheless, from these often contradictory fragments, public policies, practices, and popular beliefs we can construct an American (US) “racial worldview”.

1. All the world’s peoples can be divided into biologically separate, discrete, and exclusive populations called races. A person can belong to only one race.

2. Phenotypic features, or visible physical differences, are markers or symbols of race identity and status. Because an individual may belong to a racial category and not have any or all of the associated physical features, racial scientists early in the 20th century invented an invisible internal element, “racial essence,” to explain such anomalies.

3. Each race has distinct qualities of temperament, morality, disposition, and intellectual ability. Consequently, races have different behaviours that are linked to their physical differences; i.e. each race has distinct behavioral traits.

4. Races are unequal. They can, and should, be ranked on a gradient of inferiority and superiority. As the 19th-century biologist Louis Agassiz observed, since races exist, we must “settle the relative rank among [them].”

5. The behavioral and physical attributes of each race are inherited and innate, therefore fixed, permanent, and unalterable.

6. Distinct races should be segregated and allowed to develop their own institutions, communities, and lifestyles, separate from those of other races.

There is no biological foundation for the Race Concept. Pick any two so-called white people and analyze their DNA. The odds are extremely likely that their genetic profiles would be less similar to one another than to a randomly chosen person of color. In other words, there is greater genetic variation within a so-called racial group than between different so-called racial groups.

Or take a tribe of chimpanzees from East Africa. There is more genetic variation within that single tribe than over the entire human species.

The biological definition of race is a sub-species, which is to say “a population of organisms differing from others of the same species in the frequency of heredity traits.” No such divergence of hereditary traits exists in the human species.

Phenotypical characteristics such as hair texture, facial or eye structure, melanin content of the skin, etc. are irrelevant. They tell us nothing about the individual. It is by giving these features semantic weight– social meaning– that the Race Concept gains currency. That we choose to note these superficial differences– we could even say construct them– is thus an ideological imperative in the sense that the Race Concept is asserted 1) as a content to have something of importance to tell us about members of different races 2) as a form to structure our thinking itself.

On the other hand, as a biological fiction Race has very real social consequences. Race– like gender and class– is a determinant of human experience and, as sociologists say, “life chances.” So Race is a biological lie which has produced a kind of social truth.

The above is a baseline for any intelligent discussion of Race.

A Rough Timeline of Race Theory with Key Concepts and Thinkers

Prior to the Age of Discovery (pre-15th century) there are few theories of human difference. The rise of deepwater navigation brings greater contact between disparate populations and thus increased speculation on human biological diversity. Some thinkers turn to the Christian bible as a source of information to explain apparent differences between groups. For instance the book of Genesis, in which Ham, the son of Noah is cursed: “cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren” (9:21-15). The curse of Ham blackened the skin of his descendants, it was thought, yet there is no textual evidence in the bible for this belief. It was only between the 2nd and 6th centuries CE that another sacred text, the Babylonian Talmud claimed Ham’s sons were black. Other biblical passages claimed that all the races were a single species born of one creation, as in Acts: God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (17:26).

Ancient cultures had no consistent belief in racial difference. The Race concept gained credence only at the same moment when the early stages of capitalism commenced and with the rise of slavery.

1440: Portuguese traders hold the first public slave auction in Lagos.

1445: The Pope allows Portuguese to subject all “infidels” to servitude.

1455: the island of Arguin becomes a fortified slave market.

1466: Cape Verde archipelago discovered. King of Portugal grants settlers a monopoly on the African slave trade.

1470: 83% of slaves in Naples are black Africans from the sub-Saharan region.

Late 16th century:

the word “Negro,” borrowed from Portuguese, enters the English language.

the word “race” enters the English language as a rough synonym for type, sort or kind.

1590 SPENSER F.Q. II. xii. 8 Seagulles..And Cormoyraunts, with birds of ravenous race. 1648 HERRICK Hesper., On Spalt (1869) 226 Of pushes Spalt has such a knottie race. 1715-20 POPE Iliad V. 66 Expert..In woods and wilds to wound the savage race. 1783 JOHNSON Let. to Mrs. Thrale 20 Nov., I hope [her disease] is not of the cephalick race. 1823 SCOTT Peveril xxv. (motto), Amidst the faded race of fallen leaves.

we can also see race used to describe wine

1520 WHITINTON Vulg. (1527) 15 This is a cup of good romney, and drynketh well of the rase.

and as a term related to reproduction:

1. a. The offspring or posterity of a person; a set of children or descendants. Chiefly poet.

1570 FOXE A. & M. II. 1841/1 Thus was the outward race & stocke of Abraham after flesh refused.

1520: Paracelsus, a Swiss physician, argues for a separate creation (polygenism) on the basis of the biblical story of Cain and Abel (darker people are the children of Cain).

1619: first enslaved Africans arrive in British N. America (Jamestown, VA). This is a key moment in the development of the white race. Though initially European descended indentured servants and enslaved Africans possessed virtually the same social status, and no European thought of themselves as “white,” over the course of the 17th century distinctions began to be made.

Lucilo Vanini argues that Africans are descended from apes; as proof, their color. More broadly around this time is the spread of the notion that sub-Saharan Africans are inferior. See for instance Elizabethan drama: Shakespeare criticizes this idea in Othello and seems to confirm it in Titus Andronicus, as does the character of Eleazar in Christopher Marlowe’s Lust’s Dominion.

Spanish conquest and colonization. The Ottoman Empire blocks European expansion to the east and thus impels movement westward across the Atlantic. The Spanish enslave indigenous people such as the Arawak (1,500 men, women, and children by 1495) which sparks a debate about the relative humanity of Native Americans (de Las Casas). The Americas will, over many years, register as the single most important setting/situation for philosophers and scientists interested in human difference.

1684: Francois Bernier undertakes the first formal effort to classify humans.

1774: Edward Long, The History of Jamaica: “the Negro” is “void of genius” and “incapable” of civilization. A separate species.

1758: In Systema Naturae, (10th edition) Linneaus argues for 4 basic categories of human being: Americanus, Africanus, Europaeus,and  Asiaticus.

1781: Notes on the State of Virginia: ” I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.”

1791: Haitian Revolution enflames the imaginations of people of African descent and the paranoia of slave-holders.

late 1700s: Buffon argues that black people are the product of hotter climes with more sunlight. Over time darker skin becomes hereditary. On the other hand, Laplanders have relatively dark skin because of the extreme cold. Petrus Camper, a Dutch anatomist, develops the science of physiognimy, studying facial angles of various races as they relate to those of apes.


In general, 18th century naturalists agreed that there was a hierarchy of races, but tended to be monogenists. At the turn into the 19th century that would change as polygenism was revived.

1795: JF Blumenbach coins the term “Caucasian” in his On the Natural Variety of Mankind (pdf). He also argues for 5 races– Caucasian, Mongolian Ethiopian, American and Malay– on the basis of skin color and cranial size. This last additional race designation, according to Stephen Jay Gould, changes the theoretical “geometry” of race. Race distinctions go from being largely geographical and temperamental– a kind of linear model of difference–  to hierarchical.

1799: Charles White publishes Account of the Regular Gradation of Man:

“Where shall we find, unless in the European, that nobly arched head, containing such a quantity of brain, and supported by a hollow conical pillow, entering its centre? Where the perpendicular face, the prominent nose, and round projecting chin? Where that variety of features, and fullness of expression; those long, flowing, graceful ringlets; that majestic beard, those rosy cheeks and coral lips? Where that erect posture of the body and noble gait? In what other quarter of the globe shall we find the blush that overspreads the soft features of the beautiful women of Europe, that emblem of modesty, of delicate feelings, and of sense? What nice expression of the amiable and softer passions in the countenance; and that general elegance of features and complexion? Where, except on the bosom of the European woman, two such plump and snowy white hemispheres, tipt with vermillion?”

Note the aesthetic valuation of race here. As Stephen Jay Gould points out, aesthetic criteria for the hierarchizing of races was (and is) fairly common. In the Mismeasure of Man, Gould cites Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Oliver Wendell Holmes remark on the extermination of the North American indigenes:”and so the red-crayon sketch is rubbed out, and the canvas is ready for a picture of manhood a little more like God’s image.” As we’ll see, the concept of manhood is a crucial component of white supremacy.

Late 18th/Early 19th centuries: The rise of Anglo-Saxonism. Drawn in part from Tacitus’ Germania, published in the late 1st century CE which describes the Germanic tribes who fought Rome.

“For my own part, I agree with those who think that the tribes of Germany are free from all taint of intermarriages with foreign nations, and that they appear as a distinct, unmixed race, like none but themselves. Hence, too, the same physical peculiarities throughout so vast a population. All have fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge frames, fit only for a sudden exertion. They are less able to bear laborious work. Heat and thirst they cannot in the least endure; to cold and hunger their climate and their soil inure them.”

Theodore Parker: “‘the ethnological idiosyncrasy of the Anglo-Saxon– his restless disposition to invade and conquer other lands; his haughty contempt of humbler tribes which leads him to subvert, enslave, kill and exterminate; his fondness for material things, preferring these to beauty; his love of personal liberty, yet coupled with the most profound respect for peaceful and established law; his inborn skill to organize things to a mill, men to a company, a community, tribes to a federated state; and his slow, solemn, inflexible, industrious and unconquerable will’” (100).

1839: Samuel Morton publishes Crania Americana.

1840s: Louis Agassiz emigrates from Switzerland to the US and becomes a professor at Harvard and director of the Museum of Comparatize Zoology. Originally a monogenist (in large part because of his Christian beliefs) he undergoes a kind of negrophobic panic when he first encounters African Americans in Philadelphia. The experience is so powerful for Agassiz that he eventually embraces polygenism. He rejects the criterion of interfertility for species in order to do so.

“As much as I try to feel pity at the sight of this degraded and degenerate race, as much as their fate fills me with compassion in thinking of them as really men, it is impossible for me to repress the feeling that they are not of the same blood as us. Seeing their black faces with their fat lips and their grimacing teeth, the wool on their heads, their bent knees, their elongated hands, their large curved fingernails, and above all the livid color of their palms, I could not turn my eyes from their face in order to tell them to keep their distance, and when they advanced that hideous hand toward my plate to serve me, I wished I could leave in order to eat a piece of bread apart rather than dine with such service. What unhappiness for the white race to have tied its existence so closelv to that of the negroes in certain countries! God protect us from such contact!” (letter to his mother, Dec. 1846)

We know of the existence of the negro race, with all its physical peculiarities, from the Egyptian monuments, several thousand years before the Christian era. Upon these monuments the negroes are so represented as to show that in natural propensities and mental abilities they were pretty much what we find them at the present day,–indolent, playful, sensual, imitative, subservient, good-natured, versatile, unsteady in their purpose, devoted and affectionate, in everythink unlike other races, they may but be compared to children, grown in the stature of adults while retaining a childlike mind…. Therefore I hold that they are incapable of living on a footing of social equality with the whites, in one and the same community, without being an element of social disorder.” (letter, 10 Aug. 1863)

Agassiz began to work with Samuel Morton, a physician with a vast collection of human skulls (over one thousand at the time of his death). This was a very significant meeting of two men who would become celebrated scientists. Morton’s goal was to quantify human inequality by measuring the size of skulls and thus brains, a practice known as craniometry. Morton’s largest sample of skulls were Native American of which he possessed 338. The reason he had so many was because of the scalp bounty on Indians. Also, it is likely that there were more female and children’s skulls in that sample becuase these would have been the easiest to harvest.

1850: Robert Knox publishes The Races of Men in which he argues that democracy is a product of the Teutonic race.


1853: Comte de Gobineau, frequently referred to as the father of modern racism, publishes his Essay on the Inequality of Races which posits three major races: White, Yellow and Black. Within the White race are different sub-groups which are also races: Aryan, Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean. The Aryan white race he held to be the purest. Americans were profoundly influenced by Gobineau’s ideas, which became the foundation for Nazi race theories especially in their emphasis on purity and the consequences of miscegenation.

1854: Nott and Gliddon publish Types of Mankind. Grouping by geography, physiology and language, they arrive at 8 different races: Arctic, Asiatic, European, African, American, Polynesian, Malayan, and Australian.

1857: Dred Scott Case. No one of African decent may be a citizen.

Herbert Spencer publishes Progress: Its Law and Cause, a work that seems to anticipate Social Darwinism before Darwin’s On the Origins of the Species is published.

1859: Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life is published. This is a watershed event.


With the publication of the Origin of the Species the polygenic theory seemed to have been refuted definitively, though many monogenists still relied on the biblical account of creation as the authoritative source for that view. The notion that humanity shared a common source did nothing to undermine the belief that the races were inherently unequal in their difference and thus inequality flourished, from the persistence of phrenology and Peter Campers’ “facial angle” which divided physiognomy into the orthagnous and prognathous categories, a system resurrected by congressmen debating the 15th amendment, to the study of differences in the size and texture of brains or the distinction between the properties of hair.

The project for the measurement of human difference was almost always undertaken in the service of hierarchizing various groups. The failure to establish any clear-cut distinctions that withstood the demands of scientific method did little to impede the search for some definitive means of justifying racial hierarchy and if some methods such as phrenology became the object of satire and charges of quackery, new methods were being developed which would prove even more resilient.

Late 19th Century: Race is a “fact” of everyday life. There is still a vast confusion about where it begins and ends, what its causes and ultimate consequences are. At the same time white supremacy is simply a given for white Americans.

1860s: Black Codes

1866: Ku Klux Klan organized in Pulaski, Tennessee. From 6 former Confederate soldiers it rapidly increases in membership.

1869: Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, publishes Hereditary Genius which argues for the innate superiority of the English upper classes. Eventually he would develop the photographic method of “composite portraiture” to generate ‘ideal’ or averaged human (criminal) types.


1870s: Anti-Chinese movement in the American West.

1871: On the Descent of Man by Charles Darwin.

1877: RB Hayes pulls troops from the South, in effect betraying freedmen and signaling the end of Reconstruction.  White supremacy in the form of new local laws and political terror immediately worsens.

1882: Chinese Exclusion Act.

Alphonse Bertillon develops an anthropometric system for the idenification of criminals.


1883: The Civil Rights Act of 1875— establishing the right of all citizens to the “full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement”–is overturned by the Supreme Court.

1887 : Mound Bayou founded as an alternative to a white supremacist society. All black town.

1890s: Jim Crow fully established. Alfred Binet develops tests to measure mental ability which leads to the Stanford-Binet IQ.

1895: The Atlanta Compromise Speech by Booker T. Washington in which he essentially accedes to segregation.

Ida B. Wells publishes A Red Record.

1896: Plessy v. Ferguson

1898: Spanish-Cuban-Filipino-American War.

Wilmington “Race Riot”. Unknown number of African American citizens murdered in what amounted to a white supremacist insurrection. Yet Collier’s Weekly represents the even with the following image:


1899: Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden”


H.T. Johnson’s “The Black Man’s Burden”:

Pile on the Black Man’s Burden,

‘Tis nearest at your door,

Why heed long bleeding Cuba

Or dark Hawai’s shore;

Halt ye your fearless armies

Which menace feeble folks,

Who fight with clubs and arrows

And brook your rifles’ smoke.

Pile on the Black Man’s burden,

His wail with laughter drown,

You’ve sealed the Red Man’s problem

And now deal with the Brown.

In vain you seek to end it

With bullet, blood or death,

Better by far defend it

With honor’s holy breath.

Pile on the Black Man’s Burden,

His back is broad though sore,

What though the weight oppress him,

He’s borne the like before,

Your Jim crow laws and customs,

And fiendish midnight deed,

Though winked at by the nation

Will some day trouble breed.

Pile on the Black Man’s Burden,

At length ’twill heaven pierce,

Then on you or your children

Will reign God’s judgments fierce:

Your battleships and armies

May weaker ones appall,

But God Almighty’s justice

They’ll not disturb at all.

1890s?-1910s?: The Blues.

1899-ca. 1913: Philippine-American War. Many African American soldiers are struck by the racism directed against Filipinos by white troops. Methods used to suppress the “insurrection” include lynching, collective punishment and torture– acts that are rationalized on racist grounds.


1900: Gregor Mendel’s experiments in heritability are re-discovered after 35 years of obscurity.

Paul B. Barringer in The American Negro: His Past and Future (1900) writes that “‘sociological problems are in most cases biological problems [because] the ontogeny is the repetition of the phylogeny [and] the life history is the repetition of the race history’. The inborn characteristics of the Negro had been formed by natural selection during ‘ages of degradation’ in Africa and his savage traits could not have been altered in any significant way by a mere two centuries of proximity to Caucasian civilization in America. Thus his present ‘reversion to type’ was understandable. Lacking the discipline of slavery, ‘the young negro of the South… is reverting through hereditary forces to savagery.’” (253).

1903: WEB DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk.

1904: St. Louis World’s Fair showcases recently conquered people of the Philippines and a Congolese man named Ota Benga who would, 2 years later, be displayed next to an orangutan at the Bronx Zoo.

1910: Eugenics Record Office founded


1913: HH Goddard publishes The Kallikak Family

Dec. 7, 1915: President Woodrow Wilson, in his third address to Congress states that

“I am sorry to say that the gravest threats against our national peace and safety have been uttered within our own borders. There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, born under other flags but welcomed under our generous naturalization laws to the full freedom and opportunity of America, who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life; who have sought to bring the authority and good name of our Government into contempt, to destroy our industries wherever they thought it effective for their vindictive purposes to strike at them, and to debase our politics to the uses of foreign intrigue…. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out. They are not many, but they are infinitely malignant, and the hand of our power should close over them at once. They have formed plots to destroy property, they have entered into conspiracies against the neutrality of the Government, they have sought to pry into every confidential transaction of the Government in order to serve interests alien to our own. It is possible to deal with these things very effectually. I need not suggest the terms in which they may be dealt with.”

1917: Robert Yerkes– with the help of HH Goddard, director of the Vineland Training School for Feeble-Minded Girls and Boys, and others– develops an IQ test  which is given to 1.75 million Army recruits whose “average mental age… stood just above the level of moronity at a shocking and meagre 13” (Gould 226).

Nov. 7, 1919: Over 10,000 “suspected” communists and anarchists– many if not most recent immigrants– arrested in the first wave of what comes to be known as the Palmer Raids. Three months later another 6,000 people are arrested and held without trial.

1920: Lothrop Stoddard publishes The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy.

Mid-1920s: KKK membership as high as 5 million in the US.


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